Round table International comparative analysis of HRD Masters programmes

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Round table


Subject Frameworks of cooperation in a European context
Context The statements on this subject have been compiled from the discussion at the round table (see proceedings).
Discussion Participants: Joseph Kessels [JoK], Barry  Nyhan [BNy], Kiran Trehan [KT]

[JoK] So there are a number of issues we would like to discuss with you. First of all, we are interested whether this is a problem for you. Is there something we could do in a European context? 
    There are some formalities. For instance, according to the Bologna agreement, a Bachelor degree stands for 180 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) points, and one European Credit Transfer System point stands for approximately 40 hours of full-time study or something like 200 papers literature research. A Masters programme stands for 60 (ECTS) international or European credit transfer points. That gives you these quantitative ideas.
    For the universities that ECT System will be important in their exchange of students. For instance, if we want to send students of our university at Twente to Oxford: what is the Oxford programme worth while in terms of European credit transfer points. So that's the need for a more formal approach from the boards of universities.
    For us, in the meantime, it could help us to nurture a discussion on several issues. If you take a high standard programme on Masters level dealing with education, learning development, human resource development, what do you look for: Do you look for these more formal aspects? Is there some benchmark on international academic standards? Do we have in the domain of HRD specific standards that we would like? Do we want to get involved in the whole discussion of standards? Do we prefer a more output oriented approach? How do we deal with new developments in many universities, such as work on portfolios, a more competence based approach? Or do we still base our programmes on 19th century subject matter topics? 
    So when we would like to cooperate we would have to discuss these things and try to find out: Is there in the University Forum a platform of interested colleagues who have a responsibility for Masters programmes to collaborate on that? And that is very much where I would like to invite you and hear your opinion about this.

[KT] We run a Masters degree in Strategic Human Resources. It was Euresform accredited in the early days; John Walton came and actually helped shape that. We have done this in terms of the individual students. We just put that in addition to their course field, and that hasn't caused many problems. 
    But the key point I really wanted to make was: It is interesting hearing the kind of language of accreditation, standards, quality and control. That discourse is often very off-putting for people like myself because it feels like yet more control and yet more conformity. I am wondering whether there is something about the language that we use that actually doesn't do us justice. 

[BNy] You have just stolen my point! I am working for Cedefop, which is an European agency. The EU is pushing us, to a certain extent: all these qualification frameworks on the vocational side, which is different again to the university side. I am quite concerned about this massive move towards standardisation. I think universities are saying we have to do it, in order to be funded. Governments, too, are pushing it, to control, to get value for money, which is the current kind of discourse everywhere. But I think that people at our level are kind of reconciling to this movement that is coming, and how we can best cope with it, preserve our professional integrity. 
    You put forward your definition of HRD, which is kind of corporate and company focused. This is probably the way that I would begin to look at HRD. I think in universities it's ridiculous that there is no cooperation between education departments, teacher training, adult education departments and business schools. Basically they are all addressing the same fundamental objectives. This to me is the real problem, the heart of the issue. 
    I know that there has been the EQUIS movement, I don't know how this relates, and the EFMD ( There are also lots of business schools over the world, which are following a very uniform, kind of standardised, normative model that has come from the excellent business schools in the US. They are very much into business, one sector of the economy. They are not looking at the educational policy and the field of vocational education. They are splitting off the workers from a kind of management development. 
    So there's lots of questions. My conclusion is that the role of this group here and the University Forum is to try and create some sort of framework within which different groups of people could communicate. There is for instance a vocational education department at this university, dealing with training of carpenters and mechanics. I don't think there is any communication with the department of employment and personnel development, even though this school is called after Jim Kemmy, who was a stonemason. He was a very interesting man, but he might be horrified that a business school was called after somebody who was very much socialist in his orientation.
    I know that it may not be very practical what I'm saying, but this is just a general comment.

[JoK] That's what I am saying: We should take this advantage of the European movement towards accreditation of the higher education system to start talking to each other, to cooperate and try to inform each other. So it's a good movement to this end.

Source Recording of the round-table discussion at the HRD conference in Limerick, May 2004 (see proceedings).
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO